Occasionally a well-meaning friend who knows my passion for politics will ask if I ever considered running for elective office.
These are obviously well-meaning friends who have never seen my starring role in the production of Henry’s Hawaiian Open.
Some candidates might be hiding a skeleton or two in their closet. Even the most cursory of opposition research would unearth that boneyard in my basement.
The time was back in the daze, circa 1980.
The place was The Southern Part of Heaven, a.k.a Chapel Hill.
The sport was one we – and by we I mean folks like Moose and Crag T. and Rico and Gary O. and T.C. – invented and promulgated among all the freaks and ne’er-do-wells and layabouts and hippies and eccentrics and thrill-seekers and free spirits we were hanging out with at the time.
You know, our fast friends.
We called the sport Cozmik Croquet, and like so many great inventions, it was borne out of necessity. We were bored, and we desperately needed some fun. There was also my broken-down Ford Econoline van (with the legend Cherokee-Bryson City Florists emblazoned on the sides) that was stuck in the driveway of a house we were in the process of getting evicted from, and something just had to be done.
We considered burying the wheels in concrete and leaving it as a souvenir, but wised up in time to realize that would probably emboss us on the permanent record of any realtor or landlord in North Carolina or any of its neighboring states. The obvious solution was to push it over a cliff, but there were no cliffs nearby.
So then we came up with the grand idea of throwing a Cozmik Croquet Tournament and giving the van away as first prize. Thus came to be our founding organization, The Intergalactic Federation of Croquet and Cozmik Awareness (IFCCA).
We weren’t good for much, but we were really, really good at promulgating. We staged our first tournament, the Jones Street Invitational in April of 1975 and drew around 50 or 60 curiosity seekers. But Chapel Hill was a tight scene in those days, and before long word of our shenanigans had spread through Cat’s Cradle, and He’s Not Here and The Mad Hatter and the Cave and up and down Franklin Street, to the extent that each tournament attracted more and more attendees.
It also drew more and more attention from the wrong places, which is why holding these events at our homes was not a good idea. The morning after the second tournament, The Littlejohn Invitational, we had a note pinned to our back door demanding we vacate the premises by the first of the month.
And no one who was there will ever forget the scene at The Second Annual Jones Street Invitational, held out in Hudsonville on Mount Gilead Church Road in Chatham County. That’s when the incensed landlord and his even more apoplectic wife drove their truck up to our first wicket right during the middle of the bedlam and gave us all of one hour to collect our wickets and stakes and mallets and balls and beer cans and whiskey bottles and get the hell off their property. To drive the point home, our landlord had his buddy, the county sheriff, to park in full view to make damn sure we did what we were told.
It should go without saying that we were, once again, house-hunting by the first of the month.
What saved the sport was the bright idea of slipping unannounced onto campus and driving our wickets and stakes into one of Carolina’s many athletic fields. By then, very few of us were enrolled, but somehow we got away with appropriating the grounds for several years – long enough for the sport to grow and flourish and become the local rage our good friend Bob Landau of Maceo Productions documented with such aplomb in the movie linked above.
Within three or four years, in fact, the ensuing rage compelled us to limit the field to the first 96 Croqueteers who showed up for registration. Otherwise we couldn’t finish the tournament before having to, once again, illuminate the greensward with the light of cars positioned strategically around the perimeter.
We would stage anywhere from four to five tournaments a season, and the battles for supremacy among the myriad teams (The Jones Street Boys, The Poker-Face Crybabies, The Pair-A-Dice Palookas, Henry’s Heroes, The Rock Candy Mountaineers, The Stoned Rangers, Dee’s Boys, The Charlotte Croquet Club, Uranus B Team, Mallets Aforethought, The Media-Ogres, The Sweet Nothings, Fupped Ducks, Reckless Abandon, et. al.) remain legendary in the deep recesses of those burned-out, overtaxed medial temporal lobes still functioning in some capacity today.
Every bit as heated was the competition for Best Dressed – Male and Female. The sport, if nothing else, was a boon to all the Consignment and Thrift Stores in the Greater Spudtowne Statistical Metropolitan Area.
The tournament immortalized in Henry’s Hawaiian, as you can see, was indeed concluded under headlights, and I’m proud to say, was won by my brother Tom. T.C. always was a great mudder.
Way too many of the characters having the time of their lives are no longer with us today. But in watching the movie again last night, I was struck by how many of the people you see actually overcame their sordid past to lead productive, laudable and, in some cases, quite prominent lives.
I won’t out them. Their secret is safe with me and the hundreds of other Croqueteers they crossed mallets with on the fields of Cozmik Combat those many years ago.
Year by year, relocation by relocation, mortgage by mortgage, new job by new job, new kid by new kid – you know, LIFE – eventually took its toll. But Cozmik Croquet, like Kudzu, can never be completely eradicated.
Even today we’ll have a tournament or two and there will be anywhere from a dozen or two old Hippies show up to remind everyone and ourselves just how crazy we’ve always been and how much fun life can be when you don’t take it, or yourselves, too seriously.
And if that means I’ll never hold an elective office, I consider that a small price to pay.